Blazin' Saddles

On ya bike, Eyjafjallajökull

Blazin' Saddles

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It's been erupting with bile for ages now, isolating individuals, dirtying reputations and sending into turmoil a cycling world which wishes it would just shut its trap and cool down a little.

No, Blazin' Saddles isn't talking about Mark Cavendish and his verbal explosions but volcano Eyjafjallajokull, which has put Iceland back on the map following last year's financial meltdown.

Eyjafjalljokull - whose name looks like an Icelandic death metal troupe but sounds more like a Celtic dance routine (BS is sure one of those poncy tap-fests made famous by Michael Flatley of Riverdance fame was known as a Jaf Jalla Jokull) - has basically singlehandedly (singlevolcanoedly?) managed to bring most of Europe to a standstill.

No planes overhead, an absence of contrails and constant updates of moaning holidaymakers stuck abroad - it's been bliss.

There's no shame in shadenfreude, Eyjafandango: Saddles salutes you and your sprawling clouds of ash (as indicated by the dashing pilot chap in our picture). London has been oh so peaceful, not to mention devoid of both foreign and English tourists.

Talking of the latter - why the rigmarole and long faces? Presumably you went abroad for a purpose. Saddles has an idea: why don't you just take another week off work and make the most of a no-lose situation? There's lots to see in and around Calais, Paris and Santander (where most of you seem to be stranded). Or are you out of your comfort zone now the Tenerife package holiday has come to an end?

Anyway, BS digresses. The point he wanted to make was that this whole pa-lava has forced cyclists - like Liverpool and Barcelona football players - to make their own travel arrangements to their sporting engagements which don't include hopping on a plane.

Fresh after winning the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon in Spain, Alberto Contador made the 1,900 kilometre road trip from Santiago to Liege in order to arrive in Belgium in time for Wednesday's Fleche Wallone - only to be beaten by a rejuvenated Cadel Evans up the decisive Mur de Huy.

Taking nothing away from Evans's victory (it was the kangaroos at the finish line that did it, surely), but it doesn't bode well for Contador's rivals if the Spaniard can still be so competitive after such a gruelling car journey - look at how Barcelona fared in Milan for their Champions League semi-final tie in comparison.

Contador made his road-trip with Astana team-mates Benjamin Noval and Oscar Pereiro. In a bid to remain inconspicuous, the trio drove in a car emblazoned with the name 'Alberto Contador' across both sides and the bonnet. Rumour has it Lance Armstrong is planning his own self-promoting bus just so as not to be outdone.

Fellow Spaniards Alejandro Valverde, Luis Leon Sanchez and Luis Pasamontes also took to the road for this week's Classics races in Belgium, while HTC-Columbia's Andre Greipel was grounded in Turkey after his recent five-stage salvo. Meanwhile, RadioShack soigneur Dimi Borysov drove a staggering 5,000 km to get to Belgium from Ukraine.

But spare a thought for Team Sky's Kurt-Asle Arvesen, who was left stranded on a North Sea oil rig for four days after what was meant to be a charitable act (the Norwegian was giving a lecture and spinning demonstration to workers stationed there) turned into a rather crude joke.

Now Saddles readily admits that his only experience of oil rigs comes from the 70s Bond caper Diamonds Are Forever (remember the sinister Mr Wint and Mr Kidd?!). But it can't be the most interesting of places to be stuck for a continued period - as Arvesen attests: he kept fit by walking up and down stairs to the bottom of the rig, 155 metres below sea level.

All this disruption begs the question: what would happen if Eyjaffchuchulainn erupted again during a long transfer in one of the major Tours? It's crazy as it is for the Giro organisers to be weighing up a start in Washington DC - but it would upset the race schedule somewhat if the whole peloton had to return to Europe by boat.

POPE SNUBS TOUR: Talking of long transfers, this year's Tour of Britain is peppered with them. The route, which was launched this week at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, visits Blackpool on its first day, before venturing into the Peak District, Wales, the West Country and Dartmoor, East Anglia and, finally, London.

The transfer to mid-Wales after stage two is long enough, but it's the 245km slog from Glastonbury to King's Lynn in Norfolk after stage six that will raise eyebrows. What's more, there will be no central London showpiece finale because - believe it or not - it clashes with the Pope's scheduled visit to London (insert Catholic-priest-shaved-legs-and-lycra joke here).

Instead, the riders will have the dubious pleasure or partaking in a criterium in the rather grotty London borough of Newham, passing the docks and London City airport. Still, at least it will be a good chance to get a peek of the area ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

Britain's Bradley Wiggins announced on Twitter that he will probably turn out for Team Sky for the race - which is strange, considering there is yet again no time trial on the itinerary. Wiggins working for Edvald Boasson Hagen - now there's a thought.

CAV OPENS UP: Saddles may not be the biggest fan of the Paul Kimmage interviewing technique - basically, it consists of making the subject feel sh*t about themselves while being overly sanctimonious - but there's no denying that the Irishman teases out rather good soundbites.

And it has to be said that Kimmage managed to produce a picture of Cav that many journalists have failed to elicit: that of a troubled young man struggling with balancing a troubled personal life and a gifted vocation.

Yes, Cav doesn't do himself any favours erupting like an Icelandic volcano every time someone coughs "Greipel" in his near vicinity. But who are we to judge him? We know as little about his personal relationships or motivations as he does ours.

He left his childhood sweetheart fiancée at the alter for a stunning Paraguayan model - so what? He had dental surgery to improve his smile - so what? If Saddles had the money, the first thing he'd do is sort out his own woeful teeth. The Paraguayan chick would naturally follow.

OH NO! VINO RICCO: Saddles has always had admiration for the dogged nature of the Italian doping officials bent on getting Alejandro Valverde off their roads. But perhaps they should worry more about the kind of riders in competition on their own soil if they are to be taken seriously.

Indeed, this week's Tour of Trentino is turning out to be a bit of a Dopers Re-United event, what with Riccardo Ricco following Alexandre Vinokourov's opening time trial victory with his own triumph in stage two, while Ivan Basso lurks.

In fact, five of the top six riders have at some point been embroiled in doping controversy, with BMC's Thomas Frei the latest to be sidelined from racing after turning in a positive EPO test.

BS wonders what the odds are for Michele Scarponi, currently third in the overall classification, winning Thursday's stage three.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Next up, Tour de France competitive, Tyler Hamilton [...] A good effort nonetheless. Maybe stick to biking, my friend. Maybe stick to biking." An announcer at the 2010 Vail ski pond skimming tournament, before and after Hamilton comes a cropper in the icy water. So it's come to this, Tyler... how depressing. 


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